Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mental Illness in the Torah World

Mental health is an issue that affects all of us. It knows no religious boundaries. Every community has people that suffer form it in far greater numbers than most people are aware of. It’s the nature of mental illness that it is kept hidden, both by the individual suffering it and those family members that want to protect their family image. The stigma is enormous. And Shiduchim are definitely affected by it. This is wrong. Mental illness is a disease just like any other. It should be treated the same way. The community ought to be more open about it. That would go a long way to reducing the stigma and getting people more help sooner.

In that spirit, I present the following. It is a very thoughtful comment on an earlier post by an anonymous poster who has experienced these difficulties. It is descriptive of his own story and offers some good advice from the perspective of experience and hindsight.

It should serve as an impetus for people – especially clergy - who are aware of mental health issues that affect the Shalom Bayis of their friends or constituents - to get involved. Before it’s too late. Problems like these can not only cause divorce, but can cause dysfunction that can result in children going of the Derech.

By the number of comments this was obviously a very thought provoking post.

Being a relatively recently divorced middle aged male, and the divorce not initiated by me, I found it interesting the comments primarily focused on specific parts of the post, ignoring others. Unless I missed it, I saw no comments on the mental illness reference in the comments and how that impacts the divorce rate.

We have made great strides in the field of education diagnosing learning disabilities and children are being educated profoundly better today with a program of special ed. and helpful medication. There has also been huge progress in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses today.

Before you get married, become fully aware of your potential spouses mental health history. What medications has your intended ever used or is using now? What is their house of origin like? Absolutely go for pre-marital counseling.

My ex was unofficially diagnosed with bi-polar disorder by every mental health provider and my own doctor on the spot in the months before she filed for divorce. While she denied it, later it became known she was taking lithium when I met her and never disclosed it.

Should I have asked? Absolutely. Will I ask next time. You Bet! Mental health disorders can tear families apart from the inside out. It can destroy marriages and the relationships between parents and children. Bi-polar disorder is a major cause of divorce. Yes, I believe the growing acceptance of divorce as a viable and easy option is a contributing factor to the mindset of the partner who wants out.

It is neither, but even a sick person must feel "permission" from the community to move forward. I am not saying divorce should never be an option...there are many instances where it is 100% appropriate, but not all and I'd bet not most.
On another note, when this is the cause and the healthy spouse is committed to keeping the family together the community needs to be supportive. There are no boundaries anymore, there is no privacy. In this kind of situation Rabbonim cannot be afraid to interfere to save a family.

Friends of the spouse with the illness need to intervene and demand this person get help and not stop until the person is in the doctors office. With meds and proper support entire families can be saved from the heartbreak, destruction of relationships and the financial nightmare of divorce.

My experience was extremely disappointing as I witnessed the leadership of several communities within my community, leaders who have no issues telling us how to live Torah lives, become impotent and afraid to take a stand and save a family.

Now I have support and empathy from the same people because my ex is so difficult to deal with and sympathy for the loss of my relationship with my children. However when they could have helped they were too terrified to take a stand.